Trust

In THIS Day

John 11: 21-27

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give You whatever You ask Him.”

“Your brother will rise again,” Jesus told her.

Martha replied, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies. And everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”

“Yes, Lord,” she answered, “I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”

Prayer is a funny thing—and it tends to confuse a lot of people. There’s this obvious dichotomy between praying for what we think we want, while knowing that God’s will is perfect, and that His vision is infinite. So I’ve found that I often pray like Martha—with a future focus. Now, sometimes I think Martha gets a bad rap, because of her OCD and all, and because of her tendency to try to boss Jesus around. But think about it. After Lazarus dies, Martha has no trouble at all believing that he will be resurrected with the saints at the last day. At this point, there’s no precedent for that. Jesus hasn’t even died yet, let alone risen from the dead—and yet she believes. She’s like Noah, believing for rain! But she doesn’t ask Jesus outright for what she really wants—her brother back. Somehow that’s too audacious to even want, much less ask for. But Jesus clearly wants her to ask, and He wants to give her what she desires most—in more ways than one.

I confess that I often find myself in her shoes—praying that God would redeem my circumstances in the end, that He would somehow reconcile my unfulfilled desires, and that He would ultimately use it all for His glory…someday. I guess that’s why my thought life often leads me to an imaginary distant future wherein He brings it all to pass. And because I know that His infinite wisdom and perfect will are so much greater than mine, I hesitate to tell Him what I really want now. But it’s in bearing my heart to Him that He gives me more of the Holy Spirit, which is after all Whom I truly desire.

It reminds me of a conversation I had with my dad a couple of years ago. I had already developed a deep desire to donate a kidney to someone in need, but I had recently begun to question whether I would be medically able to do it. I told my dad that, If I couldn’t do it, I would intensely grieve the lost opportunity. “Really?” He asked. “But you would know that it wasn’t God’s will.”

“I know,” I said. “And I believe that, I really do. But I would still be sad.” Telling him that let him know my heart, to draw closer to me, to counsel and comfort me. If I can share that honestly with my earthly and imperfect father, then why in the world shouldn’t I be able to honestly share my heart—however finite and imperfect it may be—with my perfect and all-powerful Heavenly Father?

Of course we can, and we should. Jesus Himself gives us this permission when He prays in the garden that the cup might somehow pass from Him. We can pray likewise if we pray with God’s promises in mind. One promise brings me particular comfort when I pray for what I think I want. It comes from Luke 11: 5-8.

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose one of you goes to his friend at midnight and says,
‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine has come to me on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him.’

And the one inside answers, ‘Do not bother me. My door is already shut and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything.’

I tell you, even though he will not get up to provide for him because of his friendship, yet because of the man’s persistence, he will get up and give him as much as he needs.

I don’t think I ever noticed before how this story ends—He will surely give you what you “need.” I think I’ve always thought of this passage as somehow saying that by my persistence, like that of a nagging child, I could wear down God’s resistance, causing Him to give me what I am asking for—even if He knows that it will bring with it a wasting disease (Psalm 106:13-15). But no—this passage promises that no matter what I pray for, no matter what I want, God will give me what I NEED.

Selah.

Thank you, God! Thank you that you can be trusted with every desire—trusted to do what is good, what is right. Thank you for the freedom to ask, not just for resurrection and redemption at the last day, but for resurrection, redemption, and abundance—in THIS day!

Amen.

P.S. Thanks to @jpokluda for the reminder, the challenge, and the permission to pray big!

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Holding onto Manna

Exodos 16:18b-20a

“Everyone had gathered just as much [manna] as they needed. Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.” However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell.”

Proverbs 3:9-10

“Honor the LORD from your wealth and from the first of all your produce; so your barns will be filled with plenty And your vats will overflow with new wine.”

So, at my most recent checkup, I learned that my blood work was all out of whack. Namely, my white blood cell count was up and my iron was low (and getting lower with every passing month, I guess). Follow-up labs showed elevated double-stranded DNA (dsDNA). The first thought—Lupus. I was devastated at the possibility. Not because it is debilitating and incurable, although it is. And not because the number one cause of death among sufferers is kidney failure, although it is. To be sure, those thoughts were disappointing and discouraging. But the thought that most often brought me to tears was that such a diagnosis would constitute a permanent medical deferral from donating a kidney, which as many of you know has long been on my heart as one of God’s calls on my life.

And in my layman’s understanding of the disease, I reasoned (rightly or wrongly, I still don’t know) that, had I only donated soon enough—before Lupus attacked or infected my kidneys—someone might be alive today as a result. Meanwhile, delaying my donation might well cost someone else their life, along with my own. Two kidneys wasted, when at least one might have been salvaged. My mind kept going back to the story of the Israelites in Exodus 16, where God supplied their daily needs through the provision of manna. You see, God gave each person and each family enough for one day, and if they tried to save any for the next, it would rot overnight—and in a very unpleasant way according to Scripture. This was done to teach the Israelites to trust and depend upon the Lord.

And I believe He wants the same from us. No, God doesn’t provide physical manna nowadays. But He provides, and He calls us to trust Him. This concept is found throughout the Bible, namely that we aren’t to honor God out of what is left, but out of our first fruits (Proverbs 3:9-10). But it seems like many of us are waiting until…or saving for…some point in the future.

  • We’re called to serve, but we’re waiting until we have more time.
  • We’re called to give, but we’re saving just in case.
  • We’re called to trust God, but we rely on ourselves.
  • We’re called to step out in faith, but we choose to remain where it’s safe.

We’re holding onto our stuff—our comfort, our convenience, our control. But God is more concerned about our character than any of these. And that’s why, when we refuse to let go of our stuff willingly, God may very well pry it out of our cold dead fingers (consider Lot’s wife, and Ananias and Sapphira, and several others). Whatever God is calling you to, don’t wait. Don’t waste the gifts and talents and resources that God has blessed you with. Honor Him with them TODAY, lest you wake up tomorrow to find them gone.

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Our Turn

Luke 12:35-36

“Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning,
like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet,
so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him.”

Well, Tijge’s first tee-ball season is in the books. I don’t know that it is a sport he will pursue any further, but the season certainly taught me something. All of these kids were playing for the first time. They knew little to nothing about the game, but some definitely had some pre-conceived notions. One little girl in particular comes to mind. She was all decked out at the first game, with her pink bat, pink helmet, and matching black and pink glove. And she was ready to play. I think in the end, she was disappointed with the slower tempo of the game. I remember one of the first games, while the team was in the field, when she asked the coach, “When will it be our turn?” You see, in her mind, their “turn” only came when they were up to bat. It didn’t even dawn on her that she might get more action in the field. After all, when a team is at bat, each player spends most of their time on the bench. And often, it’s players’ fielding performances that can win or lose the game. But on the surface, the field seems quiet, subdued—like a waiting game.

I wanted to somehow convey to her the idea that this time spent playing defense, and seemingly waiting, was equally as important as time spent on offense. It didn’t take but a hot second for me to see the parallels between being a 5-year old on a tee-ball team and being a Christian in today’s day and age. How so? I’m glad you asked.

For starters, don’t we always want to be where the “action” is? We want to be in the spotlight, at the plate, hitting home runs, getting noticed. We don’t realize that the real, hard work of the Christian life often happens in the quiet, slow, behind-the-scenes moments—when we don’t feel at all important. We beg for God to put us in the game—Come on, Coach, I can do it!

But in truth, God may (and probably is) doing something extremely powerful and valuable during the waiting. He may be doing something in you—culling sin, developing gifts, igniting passion. He might be doing something through you. He might have someone who needs to see you handle those times of waiting with grace, humility, and purpose. He may be preparing you for the world beyond the waiting or He may be preparing the world for YOU. Can you imagine?

As we wait though, in seeming limbo, we sometimes lose focus. Like 5-year old tee-ball players, we need constant reminders to get into ready position, to watch for the ball, to support our teammates, to stay vigilant—READY. When we aren’t ready, we can miss opportunities to make huge contributions to the team, to the Kingdom. We must stay present, focused, and engaged, even when it seems like our role is small.

Finally, when we do make the big plays, I think that there is a very real temptation to bask in the limelight, to take the credit, and accept the glory. Just as in tee-ball, where success is a team effort, we can’t accomplish much in this Christian walk without the help and support of God and our fellow sojourners.

So now, when I’m tempted to ask God, “When is it my turn?”, I try to hear Him reminding me that it is my turn, now and always. The question is, my turn to do what? And if I can find the answer, I can make the very most of this life. And so can you. So let’s get in ready position, because it’s our turn!

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Good Things, God Things, and GO Things

You’ve probably heard that there is a difference between “good things” and “God things.” That is, we may find ourselves very busy with sports, clubs, volunteer activities, civic duties, Bible studies, church services, and so on and so forth. But not all of these activities turn out to be God-honoring or God-glorifying, at least not for all of us. On the other hand, there are activities and commitments that do honor and glorify God, when situated within the context of our lives and our responsibilities.

But it seems to me that there is another distinction that bears mentioning—namely, there are some things that I would call GO things. For each of us, there are likely some hopes, dreams, and inclinations that we have considered. There may be some that we are deeply drawn to and feel called toward. That list looks different for each of us, and may include everything from becoming a mentor to becoming a missionary. My list has changed a bit over time, but has included things like adoption, foster to adopt, and living kidney donation.

I think that we tend to have one of two reactions to these leanings: 1) We put them on a bucket list and figure that maybe someday, we’ll have the opportunity to pursue them; or 2) We rush off to pursue them now, figuring that “if God didn’t want this for me, he wouldn’t have placed the desire in my heart.” But God may be telling us something different. You may be making someday plans when God wants you to act today. Maybe he’s trying to tell you that you’ve thought about it long enough, prayed about it long enough, put it off long enough. And he’s telling you to GO and to GO now. On the flipside, you may be anxious to get on with what you’ve determined to be God’s call on your life, and God is actually telling you something else. He may be saying, “Not now, not you, or not at all.” He may say that through Scripture, trusted sources of wise counsel, or the closed and open doors of opportunity that you come to.

Our job is to truly listen to what God is saying to us. When he says to go, GO. When he says to wait, WAIT. And when he says, “No,” accept that with all of the grace that God has given you through Christ Jesus. These responses are easier said than done, but we can find rest in the knowledge and promise that we can do and endure all things through Christ, in whom we find our strength (Philippians 4:13).

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Rebel

Colossians 3:18-22

“Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.
Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.
Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.”

Rebel Elizabeth—that is the name I had long planned to give my firstborn daughter. It had a special meaning to me, too. It meant “rebel consecrated to God.” What does that mean? Well, it means someone who doesn’t go along with the crowd or the status quo, someone who fights against injustice, who responds to hatred with love. In short, someone who lives like Jesus did when He took on flesh and dwelt among us. The name was to be a blessing spoken and prayed over this little girl.

The problem was that the name actually predated her dad, who had more delicate sensibilities regarding what the name might imply to some and how it might be misinterpreted. “But that’s not how I mean it,” I argued over and over. “My intentions and reasons are good and noble and righteous…godly even.” BUT in the end, I had to consider how the name might adversely impact some unknown percentage of people for whom “Rebel” carries a very loaded meaning. Striking it from consideration was one of the greatest acts of submission I’ve ever undertaken, and one that frankly had me kicking and screaming deep in my heart (and not really all that deep, as I was pretty vocal about it). That was in 2012, shortly before racial and ethnic tensions in our country really started to flare up. In the long run, the choice to submit was the right one…at least until something horrific happens in the town of Laredo to tarnish our daughter’s namesake.

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I think this story tells us a few things:

  1. God’s desires for us do not always match our own desires—no matter how well-intentioned ours may be. He knows things in His infinite wisdom that we couldn’t possibly foresee, and we need to trust His guidance. Sometimes that guidance comes in the form of an earthly authority figure that He has placed over us, one to whom we our called to submit.
  2. Our reasons and intentions matter far less than our decisions and actions, and their consequences. Our love for the least of these, our faith in God, and our intent to follow Jesus require ACTION on our part. And the truth is that sometimes we think (or convince ourselves) that we are acting in accordance with God’s will and direction and in the best interest of all concerned, but the outcome demonstrates that we were wrong. In those cases, God calls us to repent and to make right the wrongs we’ve caused, whether intentional or otherwise. That requires more humility than is comfortable for most of us. But it is what God requires nonetheless.
  3. God’s instructions are there for our protection and our good, and we can trust HIM. We are often hesitant to submit if we lack confidence in the authorities placed over us. But look at the list of relationships outlined in Colossians 3:18-22—wives and husbands; children and parents; slaves and masters. Surely earthly husbands, parents, and masters will fail us. But this passage does not permit us to forego submission when they let us down. Instead, we are to submit to God through our submission to others, placing our faith not in them but in HIM.

Submission is hard, but it is necessary. And even more, it is rewarding, if we allow it to be. Maybe you can think of an area in your own life wherein you’re being called to submit and surrender, perhaps one wherein you’ve been resistant to doing so. Pray over it. Ask God to help you. Ask other believers to help you. And then DO it.

Election Day 2016!

Dear God,

Election Day! It’s finally here and I am thankful that nothing about this mess comes as a surprise to you. None of it rattles or scares you. None of it changes you. You are God, you are sovereign. You will not fall off your throne or wave a flag of defeat. You will remain the same YOU—the same GOD—you have always been.

And you, even now, are working all things together for good for those who love you and are called according to your purpose (Romans 8:28). Even now, you are using people who hate and persecute you to accomplish those very purposes—here and across the globe.

And tomorrow, you will welcome us back to you, just as you always have. “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and rich in love” (Psalm 145:8).

May your kingdom come, and your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Amen!

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In Waiting

Romans 5:6

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”

Waiting is hard. And it’s especially hard when God has called you to a place or a task or a position. Have you ever longed to do something that you felt you were born to do, meant to do, or created to do? Has God ever given you that sense of passion and urgency, only to instruct you to wait? Wait?! Are you kidding me? Well, I’ve been there…in fact, I’m there now. But it turns out we’re in good company. The Bible is full of people who were given their calling well before it came to fruition. For the sake of brevity, I’ll just share three.

First, there was Joseph (Genesis 37-42). You remember Joseph…that little brat who couldn’t keep his mouth shut about all of the grand things God was going to do through him. Yeah, that one. Well, after being given these dreams of grandeur, he had to wait and suffer for quite some time. After his brothers plotted to murder him, they changed their minds and sold him to a band of Ishmaelites, who in turn sold him as a slave to Potiphar. He probably thought his luck was turning around when Potiphar made him leader of his household, until Potiphar’s wife accused him of attempted rape (falsely, mind you). So then he ended up in jail. There, he met two servants of Pharaoh, whose dreams he correctly interpreted. But it was still another two years before Joseph was called on to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. It was only then that he was elevated to his divine calling, and it was still awhile before his brothers came to him for help during the famine. Ultimately, Joseph and his family prospered in spite of all they’d been through; Joseph’s dream had come true.

And how about David? (1 Samuel 16) He was somewhere between 10 and 13 years old when Samuel anointed him the next king of Israel. But it was still some 20 years before he took over the throne, and he faced some serious trials and obstacles in the meantime. He fought in battles, led armies, fled for his life more than once, and wrestled with despair over his circumstances. But in His time, God followed through on David’s earlier anointing. And God remained faithful the whole time—just as He always does.

And finally, let’s not forget Jesus. He had known for time eternal that His calling was to save humanity from our sins. And then, even when the time came to be born on earth, He had to wait another 33 years to fulfill His ultimate calling. He watched countless people suffer for years before He was even in a position to begin His public ministry of healing. His power, intentionally bridled for a time, must have been absolutely yearning to save and heal every single person He encountered during those waiting years. But He waited, He submitted to the will of the Father, and died for us at just the right time.

When we are confident in God’s calling for us, it can be torture to wait. We may be chomping at the bit to get after it. But I read something recently that I really liked:

“What God does in us while we wait is as important as what it is we are waiting for.”
–John Ortberg

Fleshing that out is a post for another time. But for now, let’s all be watching for what it is that God may be doing in us while we wait.

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Step Out in Faith

It’s not easy being a girl.

I know what you men are thinking…that this post isn’t for you. But don’t let my opening statement scare you away. This message is especially and specifically for you. But it bears sharing a bit of background, as in, it’s not easy being a girl. You’ve heard and even perpetuated the stereotypes, you’ve encountered the Bridezillas and the other crazies. To be honest, there aren’t that many areas on which I personally identify or connect with the traditional “female” experience. But there are a few—and there is one that especially stands out to me.

FAITH.

I know what you guys are thinking—women don’t have the corner on faith. And you’re right. As with any generalization, there are exceptions. But those exceptions belie the rule. Case in point: the cross. Think back, where were the disciples? Nowhere to be found. They were off hiding in the bushes somewhere. Who remained? The women. Now, I don’t know if they were 50 feet from the cross, but I can tell you how I picture the scene at Calvary. I see the Marys, all three of them, kneeling beneath the cross, worshiping Jesus in spite of what seemed a hopeless defeat. They’d been at His feet before, hanging on every word of His teaching…anointing His feet with the finest of perfumes and even their own precious tears. But this time, it was different. This time, it was He who was anointing THEM, with His own precious blood. And they believed Him and His promises. Still.

Need more proof? How about the tomb? Where were the disciples then? Running around like chickens with their heads cut off, that’s where. Why? Because they had finally met with a set of circumstances that defied their sense of reason, circumstances that they couldn’t understand or explain, or FIX. You can relate, can’t you? In a society where you’re expected to be self-sufficient, strong, successful. In a world where you’re expected to perform and provide, and to be right. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. You’re tired—exhausted. You’re weighed down with burdens that God never meant for you to carry. What He wants from you is FAITH. And I feel God telling me to tell you today, Step out in faith. Step out in faith. Don’t step out in the calculated risk that YOU can accept and manage. Don’t step out in your own resources—your wealth, your intellect, your spatial reasoning skills. Don’t step out only in what makes perfect logical sense. When you rely on these worldly “wisdoms” and competencies, you are stifling your God. You’re making Him small, weak, impotent—not in reality, but in your MIND, and your HEART.

Consider David, when he faced Goliath. Did he step out in his own strength, or experience, or prowess? No, in his own words, he stepped out “in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel” (1 Samuel 17:45). God never said to be strong and courageous in your own abilities. In Joshua 1:9, we see that God commands us to be strong and courageous, and to not be afraid or discouraged, “for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Don’t stifle the Holy Spirit inside you. Don’t put false limits on a God who is limitless. Have faith. Deepen your faith. And then STEP OUT IN FAITH!

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God, I pray that you would raise up not just one generation of faithful men, but an army. I pray that these godly men would allow themselves to trust you, and to not rely on their own strength and understanding. Instead, let them pursue you BOLDLY, recognizing that you are a BIG God, and that you have in store for them BIG, GOD-SIZED dreams and possibilities. Give them courage to rest in you, and to step out in faith for your glory and your kingdom. A thousand times, Amen. In your matchless and limitless power, let it be so today.

 

Silver

Luke 12:15-21

15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Given the title of this entry, on the heels of the recent Rio Olympics, you might guess that I plan to talk about one or more of the athletes or events comprising those games. But you would be incorrect. The title here actually refers to silverware. Silverware that has, for the past six years, been gathering dust in our attic. Silverware that, in spite of each piece being in a plastic sleeve (a few of which have actually melted), somehow retains the smell of said dust and the other elements one finds in a Texas attic. I’m talking about 15 tablespoons, 5 large serving spoons, 6 malt spoons, 6 dinner forks, 13 salad forks, 2 butter knives, 2 serving forks, 2 pickled watermelon forks (yes, that’s a thing), 8 teaspoons, 2 slotted tablespoons, 12 personalized teaspoons, 1 pie spatula, and 2 ladles.

However, having recently moved to a new house and added about a thousand square feet to our domicile, I’ve been trying to get some of that stuff out of the attic and into the kitchen. The problem is, we were already overrun with silverware (except for the malt spoons, which actually would have been useful for us over the years).

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And surely someone must need all of this silverware and have a use for it. And here I am, saving it for a rainy day that may never come. Going through it all, I felt a lot like that guy in the Bible, who hoarded his stash of grain, and built an extra “attic” (okay, it was a barn) just to hoard all of his stuff.

Well, in my conviction, I have so far gathered up about 7 big boxes of not just silverware, but also other things that we just plain don’t need—and that might truly be a blessing to someone else. I have to confess, I still have a long way to go. But I’m making progress. Because, at the end of the day, stuff is just stuff. And if we let our stuff own us, we’ve lost a very important battle.

So, would you join me in changing your focus? In pursuing the riches of heaven? In giving to those in need? In trusting God to provide for you in your own time of need? In being a good and faithful servant and steward of the resources God has entrusted to your care? In properly recognizing the fleeting nature of not only our stuff, but our days on this earth as well (Psalm 90:12)? In adopting a spirit of generosity? In resisting the pressure that society places on us to always be striving for more and better? I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. I can say for certain that I do. And I pray that God would help us all to learn to value the right things, and to store up our treasures in heaven, “where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20).

The Choicest of Wines

John 2: 7-10

“Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine.
He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said,

“Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine
after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

Don’t you just love how you can read a Bible story over and over, and still get something new out of it every time? I think we’ve all read John’s account of Christ’s first miracle at the wedding in Cana. But recently, I read it again, and it meant something new to me. You see, the master of the banquet was right. The guests would have been perfectly content with a cheap wine. Jesus could have brought out the Franzia or the Boon’s Farm and it would have been fine.

But Jesus doesn’t do that, does he? He doesn’t give cheap gifts—ever. He doesn’t perform half-hearted miracles—ever. He gives only the best, because that’s what God does. Every. Single. Time. He outdoes himself, and never ceases to amaze his beloved children.

And even when things aren’t going the way we planned, even when we’ve run out of wine at the wedding, we can be confident that Jesus will step in and meet our needs in a way that only he can—in a way that will amaze us and everyone around us. Our job is to ask, and to ask believing that he will respond, and trusting that he will always respond with the very choicest of wines. Selah.

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